The other day, I went for a movie at the PVR Cinema in Saket, New Delhi, and had the most annoying experience of gender discrimination. The guards at security check stopped me and said I could not go inside with my backpack (a laptop bag, but sans a laptop) because it was not a "ladies' bag".
I was aware of their security rules and that you're not allowed to bring in food, drinks, cigarettes, helmets and a host of other things. As far as I knew, bags or purses containing personal items were permitted.
"But you do allow one hand bag don't you?" I asked them.
"Yes ma'm, one ladies' bag allowed. Not this bag," replied the female guard.
"But this is my bag! I carry my personal item in this. See, here -- my medicine, makeup, sanitary pads." I pulled out a pack of Whisper sanitary pads.
The female guard suddenly took a few steps back in shock, as if I had pulled out a bomb. One of the two male guards looked away in utter embarrassment and the other rushed out of the scene to call the manager.
The manager came five minutes later, perhaps duly informed about my stunt. At first he repeated what the guard had said.
"Ma'm this type of bag is not allowed. Only a ladies' handbag is allowed."
I, too, repeated my earlier statement, and just as I was about to brandish my pack of sanitary pads again, the manager raised his hands and said "Ok Ma'm don't show me but just tell me what you have in the bag."
He then said it again, to make sure I'd understood: "Don't show me!"
I showed him anyway. I took out the pack of Whisper pads and showed him that this is my personal bag, I carry my personal items in it and I may need the contents once I am inside.
Without wasting any more time he told the security guards, "Ok please let her in."
As I walked towards the lift I yelled at them, "How can you think that 'ladies' will only use fancy purses? Why can't they use these? So many ladies are using these bags, haven't you seen? These days ladies carry all kinds of bags."
"Ma'm it doesn't not happen that often, that's why," said the manager as the lift door closed.
It doesn't happen often!
The moral of the story, then, is that "ladies" should either be prepared to be penalised for not using a bag that's not ladylike enough, OR to break the stereotype and carry bags that are more gender-neutral.
Feel free to try this at a cinema hall near you.